Francis Rossi is struggling with Zoom. On screen, the Status Quo frontman’s mouth is moving but no sound is coming out. Attempts to fix the problem are waved off. It goes on like this for 30 seconds. Then it dawns: he’s doing his Marcel Marceau impression.
“I like to mess with people,” he says with a grin, dropping the comedy mime act. “I’ve got to keep myself entertained.”
That’s fair enough – he’s been entertaining Quo fans for 55 years now, even if he’s the last original member left standing.
Early 2000s Quo albums Heavy Traffic and Riffs have just been reissued. What was it like being in the band at that point?
It was good fun, particularly doing Heavy Traffic. There are times when you’re aware that the public go off you en masse, then something happens and it’s all great again. That was a period when we were okay.
Does it annoy you, coming in and out of fashion like that?
It annoys me and it hurts somewhat. One of the things that made me agree to do [Quo’s 2019 album] Backbone was the amount of naysayers. When we split from Alan [Lancaster, original bassist] years ago, people said: “They’ll be no good without him.” That made Rick [Parfitt, guitarist] and I dig our fucking heels in. Same thing when Rick died: “No good? Well try this, then.” But acts come in and out of fashion all the time. The Stones, Reggie…
Elton John. I’m not supposed to call him that because he gets upset, but I can’t help it, that’s what I know him as. I remember years ago, we bumped into him coming out of the studio that Pye Records had. He’d just done a cover of Down The Dustpipe for one of those cheap albums they put out. And three weeks later he was this megastar. Brilliant songwriter. He once said to us: “I wish I could write them rock songs like you do.” I just went: “What? Don’t be silly Reg, for fuck’s sake.”
Sir Elton John, Sir Rod Stewart, Sir Mick Jagger. Are you jealous that it’s not Sir Francis Rossi?
If you want the truth, just before we got the gong [in 2010, Rossi and Parfitt received OBEs for services to music], I was told by a certain individual that we were due for the other gong [a knighthood]. And Rick was a naughty boy, as usual. Whenever it was imperative that he behave, he couldn’t. I can’t tell you what he did, but it wasn’t particularly good. So it was a case of: “You can’t have that one, but you can have this one instead.”
You gave up smoking dope a few years ago. Was it easier than quitting booze and cocaine?
Booze and cocaine were easy. I never liked drinking much anyway – didn’t like the taste. With cocaine, we were in Nassau [in the Bahamas], and you would not believe how easy it was to get hold of coke out there. One day I thought: “I’m not going to have any toot until the night before a day off.” And then I ended up thinking: “No,I’ll wait until the next time I have a day off.” And I just got into a routine of not having it. Dope was harder. I miss it, but I daren’t do it now. It’s so strong now I’m frightened of it.
You did some spoken-word shows over the last couple of years, on the back of your autobiography I Talk Too Much. Did you enjoy them?
Immensely. I realised that I do like to talk. I’d like to do more of them in the future. But then again, it’s weird me saying: “What I hope we can do…” Where the fuck do you think you’re going, you’re seventythree?! Part of me wonders if I should slow down, but I have a fear just like everyone else: how will I finance my old age? We’ve got all the various crises coming, and I can’t help worrying about that.
You auctioned off a beloved Telecaster for £125,000 a few years ago. Did you treat you and the wife to a nice holiday?
No, I gave a bit to charity, a load to tax… It just disappears into the system. You say ‘beloved’, but only to a point. It was getting difficult to tune, and the best way of stopping me from hanging on to it was to sell it. If you’d told me in the early seventies that I’d sell something for a hundred and twenty-five grand I’d have said: “Don’t be fucking silly. If you had that kind of money you’d retire.” Of course, you can’t retire on that these days.
Speaking of retirement, original Quo drummer John Coghlan is playing some farewell dates. Is there part of you…
…that fancies getting on stage with him one last time?
No, is the answer. I wish John all the best, but I can’t do that shit. It feels maudlin to me.
Do you miss Rick and late Quo bassist Alan Lancaster?
I miss that thing you have when you’re a young band and it’s you against the world. Obviously there were rough times even then, but there was something pioneering to it all: [makes fanfare noise] “Da-da-daaaahh! Here we go!” I miss my relationship with Rick in the early days. But then you get older and you become successful and you change, no matter what people say. What got to Rick was that it wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to be where I was standing.
Have you got another Status Quo album in you?
We’ve got one in us. Whether we’ll do one or not, I don’t know.
What’s stopping you?
Spotify. It’s even worse than it was when we were all getting ripped off in the sixties. It makes you sound mercenary saying it, but it’s something we’ve sweated over and they’re giving you a quarter of a penny per stream? Fuck you. So do I think there’ll be another Status Quo album? No, I don’t.
Quo’ing In – The Best Of The Noughties is out now via earMusic. Heavy Traffic and Riffs are out now via UMC.